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Myanmar cyclone death toll surpasses 22,000

Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar — The cyclone death toll soared above 22,000 today, and more than 41,000 others were missing as foreign countries mobilized to rush in aid after the country’s deadliest storm on record, state radio reported.

Up to 1 million people could be homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, on Saturday. Some villages have been almost eradicated, and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out, the World Food Program said.

President Bush called on Myanmar’s military junta to allow the United States to help with disaster assistance, saying the U.S. already has provided some help but wants to do more.

"We’re prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," he said.

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Myanmar’s military regime has signaled it will welcome aid supplies for victims of a devastating cyclone, the U.N. said Tuesday, clearing the way for a major relief operation from international organizations.

But U.N. workers were awaiting their visas to enter the country, said Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Allowing any major influx of foreigners could carry risks for the military, injecting unwanted outside influence and giving the aid givers rather than the junta credit for a recovery. However, keeping out international aid would focus blame squarely on the military if it fails to restore peoples’ livelihoods.

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